Churches partnering with churches

For the last four years, the University Church of Christ in Abilene has been partnering with a congregation in Cuba to aid them in the outreach efforts. It’s something I’m very proud of, largely because I think it’s the type of mission effort that we need to see more of going forward.

We’re used to a model where a church in the United States supports an individual, typically a preacher. At one time, these were mainly missionaries from the United States. Now I’d guess that more locals are supported than foreigners. I think that, as we come to recognize the maturation of churches outside the United States, in many cases the best course of action will be supporting a congregation rather than an individual.

In this case, UCC partners with the Versalles Church of Christ in Matanzas. This congregation was started by Tony Fernández and his parents, and Tony continues to lead the church today. Over the last 10 years, the Versalles church has planted over 40 other congregations. They also have their own missionaries working in other provinces.

They have the know how. They have the manpower. They lack the material resources to continue to expand this church-planting ministry. UCC has the funds (thanks to a generous donor) and shares them with the Versalles church, no strings attached. We visit them, participate with them, listen to reports about what they are doing, but do not control their efforts. The church leadership makes the decisions about how to best use the funds they receive, and they’ve done a much better job of that than any outside church could have done.

Tony works fulltime for Hope For Life, a ministry of Herald of Truth. All of his funds, personal and work funds, come from this ministry. I’m in a funny middle position. Sometimes I carry funds to him from Hope For Life. Sometimes I carry funds to him from UCC. Sometimes I have both.

Tony makes a clear distinction between the funds. Those that are brought for the church are given directly to the church leadership. If possible, Tony doesn’t even touch them. The funds from Hope For Life go to Tony, for he has directed the Hope For Life efforts in Cuba since 1991. He, like me, responds to the board of directors of Hope For Life for the use of those funds. But in Cuba, he is responsible for the administration of those funds.

A lot of people at UCC have the mistaken idea that we somehow support Tony. I hate that, because I think they are missing out on the fact that we are part of something unusual and highly significant. Direct partnership between two congregations is an exciting prospect not only in Cuba but around the world. Our experiences over the last four years lead me to encourage other churches to do the same. In places where the church has already been established, don’t fund an individual; fund a church. Come alongside your brothers in Christ and say, “Here are the resources you need. Go do God’s work.” And put no other strings on the money.

I think you’ll be amazed at what God can do.

Share the wealth (resources) on short term trips.

short-term-missions-001The other day I mentioned the problems that arise when mission teams bring in materials and resources that aren’t available to the Christians in their host church.

This is especially true with kids classes. We want to shower them with candy and gifts. We want to wow them with slick presentations and elaborate classes.

But what happens when we leave? What about the Bible teacher the following Sunday who has no candy to give, no toys to distribute, no videos to show, and no costumes for acting out Bible stories? Is it really fair to them?

To me, the solution is fairly simple and not too expensive. Whatever materials you bring, bring at least three times more than what you will use. Or only use a quarter of what you bring. Leave the rest with the local church to be used at a future date.

Now the wow factor can last longer, the local teachers gain credibility, and your mission team is solving problems rather than creating them.

This doesn’t just go for Bible class materials. We need to think of creative ways to share the credit with our hosts, edifying the church we visit, creating further opportunities for ministry after we’re gone.

The one-to-one rule in missions funding

short-term-fundingOne of the great controversies regarding short-term missions is the impact they have on the funding of long-term works. As the amount of money given to short-term missions grows, that given to long-term works shrinks. But coincidence doesn’t mean causality; just because two things happen at the same time doesn’t mean one causes the other.

Churches that do short-term missions need to make a special effort to make certain those funds aren’t taken from support that would go to long-term works. In her famous article “Short Term Missions: Are they worth the cost?“, Jo Ann Van Engen suggests:

One good rule of thumb for short-term missions is to spend at least as much money supporting the projects you visit as you spend on your trip. Invest your money people and organizations working on long-term solutions. If you are interested in evangelism, support nationals who want to share the gospel. If you are concerned about the health issues, support programs that are seeking to address those problems. Better yet, find programs that minister to people wholistically by meeting their spiritual, physical, social, emotional, and economic needs.

I think the one-to-one rule is great. I’d put it this way: spend as much money on the long-term work in the place you’re going as you do on sending short-term workers. If you are spending $20,000 to take a team to Buenos Aires, give $20,000 to the long-term workers there.

But that makes short-term missions too expensive!” Well, that’s kind of the point. Not to make those trips more expensive, but to make sure that the funding for those trips isn’t coming from funds that would be available to long-term workers. If your mission trip is that important, take the funds from your building maintenance funds, from your Sunday doughnut budget, or some other part of the budget.

Let’s make sure that short-term works and long-term works aren’t competing with one another for funding. The one-to-one rule will do just that.

Barbies, missions, and satire


I admittedly have concerns about short-term mission trips. They’re not all bad, but they’re not all good, either. And I think they proportion of church funds spent on short-term trips vs. long-term works is WAY out of balance. We need to be funding permanent works at a much higher rate. Keep the short-term if you will, just up your long-term investments proportionally.

White Barbie Savior is an Instagram account that uses humor to address some concerns about mission trips, particularly orphanage volunteering. If you browse through the photos, read the hashtags to be sure you get the point.

Now the people behind that satirical brilliance have a blog to further their message. You can find there work at www.barbiesavior.com.

Besides the message, what do you think of the medium? Is the point lost in the humor? Or are they effectively making a point with Barbie dolls?

They don’t need what you say they need

Hand_holding_a_red_fundraising_boxI’ve probably been guilty of the same. I’ll say that up front. But I’m tired of reading where ministries are raising money for what they say people in Cuba are asking for. No, they’re not asking for sewing machines. No, they’re not asking for solar-powered listening devices. No, they’re not asking for baptismal garments.

Of course, if you ask them if they could use those things or just about anything else, they’ll say yes. People who lack many basic goods will accept almost anything offered to them for free. But that’s not grounds for saying that they are asking for those things.

And this isn’t just Cuba. Cuba is merely the situation that I know best. It’s also a unique situation, with there not having been U.S. missionaries living there for over 50 years. I can speak to their situation. Others can describe what goes on in other places.

Here’s a thought: what if we asked people what they need? Asked them to prioritize the most important things? Maybe if we let them come up with the ideas, we’d be able to provide things they really need. Instead of the things we want to provide.